Chapter 14

The sun had begun to set. They huddled in a small cave on the other side of the gully, about as far away from the recent events as Kirk could get, while half carrying the stricken Vulcan. They could not afford the luxury of a fire. About an hour ago, Federation shuttles had arrived at Veridian III.

Kirk had no idea why they were there, but the Vulcan had said it was important to remain undetected.

To Kirk, only a few hours had passed since he had been standing in the deflector relay room on board the Enterprise. Then he had returned to his mountain cabin, been torn from there to materialise here, on this strange planet, and then witnessed himself die. That was the hardest part to take in. How could he be dead and still here? It didn't make any sense.

And what about Spock? Kirk looked at his friend with concern. Spock seemed to have lapsed into a state of shock, his eyes were huge and luminous in the moonlight, his breathing shallow. Obviously, he had suffered some kind of mental trauma. Kirk had no idea how to help him.

Seeing that Spock had begun to shiver, Kirk removed his now filthy Starfleet jacket, and draped it carefully over the Vulcan's shoulders. Spock grasped the edges of the jacket, and pulled them tightly over his chest. Kirk knelt down in front of him and grasped his shoulders.

"Spock - I need some answers. What's going on?"

The Vulcan stirred and turned slowly to face Kirk. His eyes were hollow and sunken. He looked like a man that had just been through the fires of hell. "I did not think it was possible to survive that much mental pain - twice."

Spock was rubbing his temples. Kirk let his fingers close over the Vulcan's hand and squeezed gently. "What happened?"

"Our bond - I felt it severed."

"This is not the first time I've been a king-size headache to you old friend."

Spock was gradually recovering. A faint green tinge had begun to colour his face again. His deep eyes met Kirk's, and glittered in the moonlight. Spock's fingers felt feverish to the human, whose natural body temperature was several degrees below that of the desert dwelling Vulcanoids. If nothing else, it reassured him that his friend was not suffering from exposure.

Suddenly Spock moved his fingers, so that it was he that clasped his Captain's hands. "Jim. Would you permit...?"

Kirk knew what the Vulcan wanted and quickly nodded so that his friend would not have to voice the words. Settling himself on a low rock, Kirk took a deep breath and prepared himself for the mind meld.

Spock also took a deep steadying breath. He clasped his hands together with his index fingers steepled. Then his slim fingers reached for the contact points on Kirk's face that would confirm to him once and for all if the link between them had gone. He admitted to himself, in the seconds before he touched Jim Kirk's mind that he was afraid - afraid that he would not find that which he so desperately sought.

A few seconds later Kirk became aware of the world around him again. He existed as a separate entity within it. He felt the contact of icy fingers on flesh slowly slacken, and was aware that the Vulcan had released him. But he could still feel the reassuring presence deep within his mind. He opened his eyes and locked gazes with Spock. His expression asked, Well?

Spock did not speak, so Kirk was faintly startled to hear the Vulcan's voice echoing within his own mind. We are still one.

Spock returned Kirk's relieved smile. It was an extraordinary and deeply moving sight, for which Kirk gave thanks. Then he straightened, and almost regretfully, began to school his features back into that implacable Vulcan mask he so often wore. Now, almost fully recovered from the trauma, he cocked an eyebrow at his old friend.

"I believe I managed to convey the basics of our situation to you during our meld, however I assume there are still some questions remaining. Please feel free to ask them."

Kirk took a deep breath, and smiling, let it out slowly. "Who exactly is Seleya?"

Just after dawn, they began their careful descent into the valley, dodging from sight whenever a shuttle flew overhead. On their way down the mountain, they had caught glimpses of the huge 40-mile furrow, gouged into the planets' surface by the saucer section of the Enterprise-D. Kirk had shuddered. He could still vividly recall the death of his own Enterprise, as it had burned like a comet in the atmosphere of the Genesis Planet.

He wondered if this other Captain - Jean-Luc Picard, had witnessed his ship's demise. He hoped not. No Captain should have to witness the death of his ship. Nor his own death come to think of it, thought Jim wryly. Spock had been right about that. Kirk was having difficulty coming to terms with some of the things he had learned during the meld, and had decided to use his old command formula of seeking out physical activity, to take his mind off difficult issues.

They were still approximately 3 weeks in Spock's past. Somehow, they had to avoid detection until that time had passed, but Veridian III was now teeming with salvage crews. So far, they had avoided detection by being miles away from the crash site. The shuttles looking for Enterprise survivors had concentrated their searches in the vicinity of the ship itself, and now that the survivors were all gone, it was not likely that they would be detected.

Kirk had stood at the entrance of their tiny cave and watched as Veridian's sun began its slow climb through the sky. He had turned to the unusually quiet Vulcan and sighed, "First order of business Mr Spock - survival. Can we remain here for 3 weeks with no supplies?"

"Unlikely. The nearest source of water on the planet is in the valley below. A valley, that is at present, crawling with Federation personnel. There is no telling how long the salvage operation will take. We cannot depend on rescue by Q either. After all, he assumed our point of exit would be approximately 80 years ago. It may take him some time to locate us."

"So - we have to get off this planet somehow, without being discovered, and find somewhere to lie low for almost a month. Seems straightforward enough. Mr Spock, how much experience have you had at breaking into Starfleet Shuttles?"

Spock had favoured his friend with that familiar cocked eyebrow. "Really Captain, such behaviour is unbefitting to a Federation Ambassador."

Although Spock had some doubts that the plan would work, he recognised his friend's need to take action. In the past, Kirk had often achieved results that the Vulcan could not have imagined using logic alone. He had long since admitted that, in many cases, the human ability to leap beyond logic and act purely on an instinctual level had great merit.

So now he followed his friend down the mountain, for the moment content not to think about the real problem. The paradox of Kirk's existence in this time line could wait.




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